Printable CopyTHE DEVIL’S ACRE
Noarlunga Theatre Company
Port Noarlunga Arts Centre
Until 27 May 2017

Review by Anthony Vawser

Upstage Theatre Company is revisiting the same turf that produced their 2013 presentation of “Jack the Ripper”, but this year’s Holmes and Watson is a far-less-satisfying version.

It may be possible to craft a murder mystery that manages to maintain an audience’s attention and to engage their emotions even though we all know who is committing the crimes, and why, but “The Devil’s Acre” falls short on this front, and on many others besides. As the half-way mark is approached, scene after scene falls flat and the saga starts to feel endless.

The “Jekyll and Hyde” story can be – and has been – done in a comic or serious manner. Perhaps ironically, in attempting to encompass both sides, this show doesn’t fully succeed with either one. The staging isn’t anywhere near deft enough to generate very much of the threatening atmosphere that this kind of tale desperately needs in order to work well, and the drama tends to be lacking in conviction just when it is required the most, while the humour – as well as its delivery by the performers – needed to be sharper and sparkier.

Perhaps this is simply a case of a multi-talented individual taking on too much at once. John Martin has scripted and directed this show, as well as stepping on stage to play Sherlock Holmes. It’s both discouraging and disconcerting to see the writer stumbling over their own lines, as well as playing opposite a Watson who sounds about 80% Australian. A great deal of the acting is unfortunately uneven in impact, giving us some scenes where performers may be sharing the stage but seem to occupy different pages emotionally.

A number of elements do stand out for their relative high quality. Cast members Rachel Blundey and Aden Quinn both possess noticeably polished singing voices, Suzie Cherry is a comedic bright spark, Violet Rowe’s costume design is certainly above-average, Mon Cochrane’s lighting effectively casts moody shadows, a brief-but-delicious joke involving a shortbread biscuit tin is a real winner, and there is one anatomy-related non-sequitur of a gag that is as weird in its out-of-nowhere bawdiness as it is undeniably clever.

The musical accompaniment of a mere two individuals – composer/keyboardist David D’Angelo and violinist Daniel Micklethwaite - generates a surprising amount of mileage, and the ensemble numbers are the strongest in the show. Some of D’Angelo’s songs are fun and well presented (and the one contributed by performer Paul McLean is a winner), while others fall comparatively flat, mostly in their staging, but sometimes owing to tuneless vocals.

Perhaps more rehearsal time was needed, perhaps an additional draft of the script would have been beneficial, or perhaps the show needed to be steered by someone who could see it with more of an objective eye…It could be for all these reasons, and maybe more, that “The Devil’s Acre” fails to reach the standard that Upstage have shown themselves capable of in the past.